Category Archives: Children’s books

Stepping Stones

During this week of unspeakable horror in Syria, I found a little book at the library that shone with beauty and hope. Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey, written by Margriet Ruurs and with illustrations created by Nizar Ali Badr, is a honest and poignant story of a Syrian family’s experience of having to leave their beloved home and country and flee for their lives. Fortunately, they find open arms and help in a new country. This book would be a wonderful teaching tool for families and classrooms to help all understand the refugee crisis worldwide. It also gives information about how one can give help during this humanitarian crisis.

from the publisher, Orca Book Publishers:

This unique picture book was inspired by the stone artwork of Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr, discovered by chance by Canadian children’s writer Margriet Ruurs. The author was immediately impressed by the strong narrative quality of Mr. Badr’s work, and, using many of Mr. Badr’s already-created pieces, she set out to create a story about the Syrian refugee crisis. Stepping Stones tells the story of Rama and her family, who are forced to flee their once-peaceful village to escape the ravages of the civil war raging ever closer to their home. With only what they can carry on their backs, Rama and her mother, father, grandfather and brother, Sami, set out to walk to freedom in Europe. Nizar Ali Badr’s stunning stone images illustrate the story.

from Social Justice Books:

This bilingual children’s picture book (English and Arabic) is worth reading for the illustrations alone. The three dimensional characters, made from beach stone by Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr, are so expressive and exquisite that they tell a story of their own. Badr conveys the plight of refugees, although he himself has never left Syria. He explains, “How could I leave the country that gave to humanity the world’s oldest writing, the cuneiform alphabet?”

What can you do to make a difference?

 

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” my effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book about life in Syria.

The Librarian of Basra

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story From Iraq, by Jeanette Winter, is a picture book for children that is equally interesting to adults.

…from the Publisher:

“In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammad was ‘Read.'”*
~ Alia Muhammad Baker

Alia Muhammad Baker is the librarian of Basra. For fourteen years, her office has been a meeting place for those who love books–until now. Now war has come, and Alia fears the library will be destroyed. She asks government officials for help, but they refuse. So Alia takes matters into her own hands, working secretly with friends to move the thirty-thousand new and ancient books from the library and hide them in their homes. There, the books are stacked in windows and cupboards and even in an old refrigerator. But they are safe until the war moves on–safe with the librarian of Basra.

This moving true story about a real librarian’s brave struggle to save her war-stricken community’s priceless collection of books is a powerful reminder that the love of literature and the passion for knowledge know no boundaries.

 Jeanette Winter, brings us many of these inspirational stories from around the world in picturebook format. I love the idea of introducing children, through these books, to these everyday yet truly inspiring heroes. For me, they pique my curiosity about people I’d never heard of and I find myself pursuing more information and searching for more books about them!

 

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book that takes place in Iraq.

 

Water Buffalo Days

Water Buffalo Days: Growing Up in Vietnam, by Huynh Quang Nhuong,  is a book of memories of a young boy growing up in Vietnam before the war. The memoir was written for children in the middle grades, but tells such poignant stories that there is definitely no age limit on it. I was quite fascinated with learning about the culture this little boy grew up in, and also learning so much about water buffaloes.

…from the Introduction to the book:

I was born in the central highlands of Vietnam in a small hamlet on a riverbank that had a deep jungle on one side and a chain of high mountains on the other. Across the river, rice fields stretched to the slopes of another chain of mountains…

…Like all farmers’ children in the hamlet, I started working at the age of six. I helped look after the family herd of water buffaloes.

…Animals played a very large part in our lives. Many wild animals were to be feared. Tigers and panthers were dangerous and always trying to steal cattle. But a lone wild hog was even more dangerous than a tiger. The hog attacked every creature in sight, even when he had no need for food. The river held a different danger: crocodiles. Other animals provided food, labor, and often friendship. Watchdogs and water buffaloes were like members of our family.

…I always planned to return to my hamlet to live the rest of my life there. But war disrupted my dreams. The land I love was lost to me forever. These are my memories…

Those memories are told beautifully and are quite remarkable. Although this young boy started working with the family’s water buffalo at age six, it was his ten-year-old brother who trained the animal. The training was fascinating, and I had no idea that water buffalo could be so intelligent, patient, and gentle. This water buffalo also became the main bull in the village and was a fierce protector of the people and the village animals.

It was so interesting to see how the villagers worked together and interacted. And I loved the stories of this boy’s daily life, hopes and dreams, and his deep friendship with the family’s water buffalo.

Although, this is not included in this book, the background on Huynh Quang Nhuong is very interesting but sad. The Vietnam War interrupted all his hopes and dreams. During the war, he was shot and permanently paralyzed. He was sent to the U.S. for treatment and never returned to his home village. The war changed all of that for him.

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a memoir of a boy growing up in Vietnam.

 

Emmanuel’s Dream

Emmanuel’s Dream: the True Story of Emmanuel Osofu Yeboah, by Laurie Ann Thompson, tells the story of a boy from Ghana who was born with a deformed leg. He lived in a time and place where there were no rights for people with disabilities, but his mother did not want his disability to define his life. She encouraged his independence, and instilled in him a drive to succeed and to live his life with no “disability.”

Even as a young child, Emmanuel showed great creativity and courage in how he made adaptations that would help him to do the things he wanted to do. He joined in the neighborhood soccer play with the other children by making some makeshift crutches and doing things with only one leg that were hard for those with two legs! They soon developed a great respect for him. When he wanted to learn how to ride a bike, they helped him. Riding a bike would become an important part of his adult life.

As he grew, Life was never easy for him. His mother became very ill when he was thirteen and he left home for the city to find a job that would help his family. At first no one would hire him because of his disability, but he persisted and did find work. Two years later, at Christmastime, he returned home to care for his dying mother. Her last words to him have guided him through the rest of his life!

“Be respectful, take care of your family, don’t ever beg. And don’t give up!”

Emmanuel had a big dream. He wanted to ride a bike all around Ghana sharing his message with everyone — that disabled does not mean unable!  He wrote to the Challenged Athletes Foundation, in San Diego, California, asking for help to make his dream come true. They sent him a bike, helmet, and all the gear he needed, and he trained and started his long ride. He rode nearly 400 miles in ten days, and talked with everyone he met, including farm workers, government officials, and reporters. He became an inspiration to all and a national hero.

In his own words: “In this world, we are not perfect. We can only do our best.”

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book that takes place in Ghana.

Nasreen’s Secret School

 

Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter, is a very moving picture book about the life of a young girl and her family after the Taliban takes over in Afghanistan. She and her family were living happily in one of the ancient cities of Afghanistan when that change happened.

The Taliban changed every part of life in this country and for this little girl. Girls were immediately banned from attending school, and life became very restricted for all women and girls.  “The art and music and learning are gone. Dark clouds hang over the city.”  And then one day her father was taken away, and after days and weeks of worrying about him, her mother left in search of him. Nasreen stayed at home with her grandmother, but didn’t speak after that.

Her grandmother, who narrates this story, was very worried about her. She wanted her to be able to go to school and learn the things that she and Nasreen’s mother had learned when they were young. She heard about a secret school for girls, and took Nasreen there. The girls had to be extremely careful to arrive at the school at different times so that they were not noticed by the soldiers. The neighborhood boys would distract the soldiers when they saw them getting too close to the green gate of the house where the school was held.

At first Nasreen was silent. She didn’t talk with the other girls or her teacher, and her grandmother continued to be very worried. But slowly, she began to make friends with another girl in the class, she began to enjoying her learning, and she began to talk again.

Although a story written for children, this book was eye-opening to me about what life was/is like for the girls and women of Afghanistan under the tyranny of the Taliban.  Jeanette Winter has written numerous picture books about children in other cultures and I’m reading as many of them as I can find.  You might be interested in reading her “Author’s Note” from the ending of this story of Nasreen.

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book based on a true story from Afghanistan.

 

Waiting for the Biblioburro

Waiting for the Biblioburro, by Monica Brown, is based on a true story from Colombia about the children who live in remote areas and don’t have access to libraries or even school books.

In this picture book story, a young girl, Ana, longs to have books to read but she lives too far away from a library. But one day she hears the clip-clop of a burro approaching. She looks to see who is coming and sees a man leading a burro, and the burro is loaded down with bags of books!

This is a wonderful little book that can start many important conversations in a classroom, and is a sweet read for any of us who simply love books and libraries!

To learn more about Luis Soriano Bohórquez, the man who started the biblioburro, a real-life mobile library, click here.

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book that takes place in Colombia.

A Dog of Flanders

A Dog of Flanders, by Ouida, is a classic and timeless story from Belgium and was a special book to read. The language is so beautiful, and the story so heartfelt and heart-wrenching. I had heard of this book before but never read it. I’m so glad I found it as I was looking for books to read for each country in the world.

When old Jehan Daas had reached his full eighty, his daughter had died in the Ardennes, hard by Stavelot, and had left him in legacy her two-year-old son. The old man could ill contrive to support himself, but he took up the additional burden uncomplainingly, and it soon became welcome and precious to him. Little Nello—which was but a pet diminutive for Nicolas—throve with him, and the old man and the little child lived in the poor little hut contentedly. It was a very humble little mud-hut indeed, but it was clean and white as a sea-shell, and stood in a small plot of garden-ground that yielded beans and herbs and pumpkins.

The story is of an very poor old man, Jehan Daas, and his grandson, Nello.  Into their lives comes a dog they find that had been cruelly treated and then abandoned along the roadside. They nurse the dog back to health, and the dog becomes their loyal companion and family member, each one of them needed in the effort to earn enough money to live. Although poor and often hungry, Nello is happy living with his grandfather and his dog, Patrasche.

Nello loves art and loves the great works of Peter Paul Rubens, the great Flemish painter who lived, worked and is buried in Antwerp. His influence is felt everywhere, and inspires Nello to teach himself art.

And the greatness of the mighty Master still rests upon Antwerp, and wherever we turn in its narrow streets his glory lies therein, so that all mean things are thereby transfigured; and as we pace slowly through the winding ways, and by the edge of the stagnant water, and through the noisome courts, his spirit abides with us, and the heroic beauty of his visions is about us, and the stones that once felt his footsteps and bore his shadow seem to arise and speak of him with living voices. For the city which is the tomb of Rubens still lives to us through him, and him alone.

Nello longs to see the two famous Ruben’s paintings in the Cathedral of Our Lady, in Antwerp, but they are kept behind a curtain and are only available to see if you can pay the fee.

As Nello grows older, and his grandfather grows more feeble, the boy and his dog work hard to make a living. Although life is a struggle, Nello teaches himself art and loves all of nature around him, so he is a happy person.  But life takes a cruel turn for this little family, and Nello and his devoted dog do the best they can to deal with it all.

I did love this little story. The dog is such a wonderful character, and the author lets us know what the dog is thinking and why he does some of the things he does. Nello is a gentle, sweet character, full of good cheer, talent, and hope… He is almost too good for this world.

A statue of Nello and Patrasche in Hoboken, Belgium.

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a classic from Belgium.

Read Local

The Oregon Book Awards are “named to honor Oregon’s literary community.” There are eight categories of awards, each named after a prominent Oregonian, and with a new category for graphic literature. Click here to read about each category.

  • Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry
  • Ken Kesey Award for Fiction
  • Frances Fuller Victor Award for General Nonfiction
  • Sarah Winnemucca Award for Creative Nonfiction
  • Angus L. Bowmer Award for Drama
  • Graphic Literature Award
  • Eloise Jarvis McGraw Award for Children’s Literature
  • Leslie Bradshaw Award for Young Adult Literature

This month I read all the books (except one which is still on hold at my library) in the Eloise Jarvis McGraw Award for Children’s Literature category. I love reading books for children, so this little project was a very enjoyable one for me. There are five nominees for this award, and the winner will be announced on April 22, 2019.

The five books nominated for this award are:

As I read each one, I could easily understand why each was nominated. They are all award-winners in my estimation — such a nice selection of books! I recommend all five of these books to anyone who loves children’s literature!

Although I liked each one, there was one that completely won my heart. A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White, by Barbara Herkert and illustrated by Lauren Castillo, is a very special book that introduces children to the life of the author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. It is beautifully written with lovely illustrations, and for all of us who dearly love Charlotte’s Web, it shows that the ideas for that special book came right out of E.B. White’s own childhood experiences.

The Book of Dragons

The Book of Dragons, by Edith Nesbit, is a series of nine dragon stories. Each dragon is a different color or made of different stuff, and each one causes different problems. These stories for children are fun. I didn’t enjoy this book as much as some of her others — I loved The Psammead Trilogy and The Railway Children. But if you enjoy dragon stories, or know a young one who does, I definitely recommend books by Edith Nesbit. She’s terrific.

From the Back Cover:

Dragons — of all sorts — make for marvelous fun, and this collection of madcap tales is filled with them. Some of the legendary monsters are funny and mischievous, others are downright frightening, and a number of them are wild and unpredictable. There’s a dragon made of ice, another that takes refuge in the General Post Office, a scaly creature that carries off the largest elephant in a zoo, and even a dragon whose gentle purring comforts a tiny tot. And who challenges these amazing creatures? Why, daring heroes, of course, as well as a wicked prince, and even an entire soccer team — which, unfortunately, meets its fate with a fire-breathing brute that flies out of the pages of an enchanted book.

H.R. Millar, E. Nesbit’s The Book of Dragons, North-South Books, 1900

 

 

I read this book for my 2019 TBR Pile Challenge.

Bartholomew and the Oobleck

Bartholomew and the Oobleck, by Dr. Seuss, was published in 1949, so I grew up listening to this book and his other Bartholomew book, The Five Hundred Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. Both books were, and still are, so much fun!  When I was researching books written in my birth year, I was happy to find the Oobleck book on the list!  As a kid, as a Mom, and now as a Grandma, I have always adored Dr. Seuss!  And even though this book is seventy years old, it still provides timeless fun and humor.

Bartholomew is just a regular kid in the Kingdom of Didd, where King Derwin is not the smartest king on record. It was wintertime, and King Derwin was very tired and bored with the weather.

And that winter when the snow came down, he started shouting! “This snow! This fog! This sunshine! This rain! Bahh! These four things that come down from my sky!”

“But King Derwin,” Bartholomew tried to calm him. “You’ve always had these same four things come down.”

“That’s just the trouble!” bellowed the King. “Every year the same four things! I’m mighty tired of those old things! I want something NEW to come down!”

Call the royal magicians!

If you’ve already heard the story of The Five Hundred Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, you know that the royal magicians are a bit bumbling. They can start magic, but can’t seem to finish it very well. They don’t have a lot of control over what happens with their spells! So, when they put together a spell to add something new to the weather, OOBLECK is what they got. And we all know that oobleck is very green and sticky stuff.

Thank goodness for level-headed, clear-thinking Bartholomew!

If you or your children or grandchildren want to make some Oobleck, here’s a link to the recipe for the green goop! Enjoy!

 

I read this book as part of my year-long celebration of turning 70 years old.